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Tony Dungy looks back at his 0-5 start with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13 years ago

This kind of misery is not new. This level of doubt has been around for a while. This type of outrage has been seen before. And so a coach sits in his office on a Tuesday morning, replaying the latest chapter of a season gone wrong. His team has lost, as it had the week before, and the week before that, and the one before that and the one before that. With every week, the wretchedness had been multiplied. In the first five games of his coaching career, his Bucs have lost five times, and the young quarterback has a long way to go, and the highly paid receiver is dropping passes, and the defense isn't as good as he had hoped. At 0-5, Tony Dungy felt awful, too. When the phone rang and he was told the team owners wanted to see him, he felt even worse. "I thought it might be the end of our time," Dungy said, laughing softly into the phone. "No, I really didn't think that was it. I thought it could be one of those, 'Hey, we have to do something different. We have to show improvement and win this week or next week.' I just didn't know what it was. "When I got there, Joel and Bryan (Glazer) just wanted to take me to lunch. They said, 'Hey, you've got to get your system in place. We don't expect everything to change overnight. We want you to know we're behind you.'

"That helped a lot. We were able to continue to do things the way we wanted. I would have anyway, because that's the only way I know. But it helped."

In the Bucs' sixth game of 1996, Tampa Bay upset the Minnesota Vikings.

Today, it seems like a memory worth reliving.

These days, another Bucs team is 0-5, and the fans are unhappy, and the critics have sharpened their teeth. These days, it is Raheem Morris, another first-year coach, who is hearing the discontent of a winless start.

So, Tony. You have any advice for the new guy?

"I'd tell anyone in that situation, not just Raheem but the coaches in St. Louis and Kansas City, too, that they have to stick to their guns and do what they believe in. That's the hardest part. Everyone is telling you all the things you have to try, but it comes down to what you do best. That's what the team needs. I sympathize with those guys."

Why not? Time was, Dungy walked in the same footsteps.

It was back in 1996, and the Bucs were a bigger mess than they are now. For 13 straight seasons, they had finished with a losing record. There was a vote for a new stadium, which would help decide whether the team would remain in town. They had just been clobbered, 27-0, by Detroit.

Dungy was days short of his 41st birthday, and after years of playing the interview circuit, he finally had a head coaching job. And it wasn't going well. After five games, Dungy would have expected to win three games, maybe four. Instead, he lost them all.

Even now, Dungy can tell you every detail. How they would have beaten Denver, but Derrick Brooks missed Terrell Davis on fourth down. How they would have beaten Seattle, but Alvin Harper dropped a pass from Trent Dilfer. How the Bucs didn't score a touchdown in three of the five games. How a defensive stop could have won two others. And so on.

"I remember walking off the field against Seattle (the fourth loss)," Dungy said. "Some fan leaned over the rail and yelled, 'I'm never coming back to another game as long as you're the coach.' I can still visualize it. That stuff stings, but you can't let people talk you out of what you believe in.

"The next year, when we were 4-0 and had just beaten Miami in a Sunday night game, I remember thinking, 'Hey, I wonder if that guy is here tonight.' "

At 54, Dungy is a studio analyst for NBC. He retired from coaching after last season, and he said he doesn't miss it. He said he doesn't think he'll ever come back.

In his job, Dungy sees a little of most of the NFL games, but he said he doesn't know enough about the Bucs' schemes to analyze the problems. He knows Morris a little — through Steelers coach Mike Tomlin — but not well.

Still, back in '96, Dungy had Brooks before he became Brooks, Warren Sapp before he became Sapp and John Lynch before he became Lynch. Does he see any players of that caliber?

"What you have to realize is that molding certain players to your system is what's important," Dungy said. "Brooks and Sapp played in a system that wasn't conducive to them (in '95). Had they stayed in that same system, they might never be the Brooks and Sapp we know. You have to find the right player in the right niche. The coach and general manager have to have some time to get the right people.

"It's what you expect when you change your defensive philosophy, your offensive philosophy. Some players are more tailored to what they did before. It's a growing process."

Dungy does offer this. Morris has a tougher situation than when Dungy took over.

"The thing we had going for us was that there weren't many expectations," Dungy said. "Everyone is looking at this season and say, 'Hey, we were pretty good the last 5-6 years. What happened? Why did we get so bad?' We didn't have that. When I told them something, they didn't have anything to fall back on.

"Raheem is trying to put in a new system, and there are guys on the team who have had success in another system. It would be easy to say, 'Hey, Coach. Can we get some of this back in?' But that's just going to set you back."

It is true that standards have changed. In the 12 years before Dungy arrived, the Bucs won 56 games and didn't reach the playoffs. In the 12 before Morris took over, they won 105, had seven playoff seasons and won a Super Bowl. Throw in more highlights and more talk shows and more Internet blogs, and criticism is harsher, too.

The pain? That never changes.

"For me, 0-5 seemed like two lifetimes," Dungy said. "When Rod Marinelli (his former defensive line coach) went 0-16 last year with Detroit, I couldn't imagine it. Even a two-game losing streak is tough. When you go from 0-3 to 0-4 to 0-5, it feels like an eternity. It was embarrassing to be 0-5.

"You have to have a strong belief in yourself whether you're 5-0 or 0-5. People told me I was stubborn, that I should do this or do that. But Chuck Noll once told me that stubbornness is only bad if you're wrong."

Still, losing happens to good coaches. Bill Walsh was 0-7 with the 49ers. Joe Gibbs was 0-5 with the Redskins. Noll won his first game with the Steelers, then lost 16 in a row over two seasons.

As for Dungy, his anguish ended in Game 6 when the Bucs beat the Vikings. Afterward, his players dumped Gatorade on him. Sapp handed him the game ball.

"I'm looking at it now," Dungy said over the phone. "It says 'First Victory' on it. It's right above the one that says '100th victory' and the one that says 'Most Victories, Tampa History' and 'Most Victories, Indy History.' "

In 12 more years of coaching, Dungy never had another losing record. He had 11 playoff seasons. He won 10 games or more 10 times. His Colts won a Super Bowl.

Dungy pauses.

"It just goes to show you that you can't judge by the way a guy's career starts."

"They have to stick to their guns and do what they believe in. That's the hardest part. Everyone is telling you all the things you have to try, but it comes down to what you do best. That's what the team needs."

Tony Dungy, offering advice to this season's winless NFL coaches

Tony Dungy looks back at his 0-5 start with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13 years ago 10/16/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 17, 2009 3:19pm]

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